Last month we emphasized that the pace of change in technology and business processes requires continuous upgrading of employee skills to remain competitive.

This month, we expand on the topic of training and focus on how best to drive the effectiveness of your training process to maximize return on your investment (ROI).

But, let’s get one thing straight before we go any further: Training is a process, not an event!

Training your employees can be done weekly, monthly or even annually, but you need to view training as a process, not a single one time shot in the arm. For your employees, one training event will not change their behavior or ensure complete development of new skills. Only a disciplined, long-term program of follow-ups will you find effective results from training.

In addition, we need to understand that training challenges employees to reach new goals. Challenged employees perform at a higher level.

High performance can only be achieved if the training is translated into improved work processes. A one time training event will not produce lasting results. To effectively change behaviors and produce changes in your business that increase your ROI from training, you must see it as part of your operations and not as a separate activity. You must have an established way to evaluate the design, delivery and effectiveness of training.

Driving an effective training process at your dealership requires answering four questions that cover the four major points of any successful management process. These include:

A. Needs Analysis: What are the needs of your dealership?

B. Objectives: Do you have clear, measurable and observable objectives?

C. Presentation: Different people learn differently. Are you selecting the presentation and training method that best works for your staff?

D. Evaluation: Do you know what you want to measure to evaluate the success of your training?

Needs Analysis & Objectives

In his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Dr. Steven Covey tells us to “Begin with the end in mind.” Further, we know that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Likewise, in the training process you need to know what results you’re aiming for and how you will know if it has accomplished those results.

For example, are you looking for better sales? What does that mean? Are you looking for more sales calls, more sales volume or more profits from sales. You must clarify your objectives before you start.

Then, you need to have objective measurements to know if your training accomplished what you wanted. Did your salespeople make more calls that resulted in more sales? Did your technician’s productivity (recovery) increase and result in more billable hours?

Presentation & Method

Three of the four points in the training process revolve around vision and measurement of accomplishment (Needs Analysis, Objectives and Evaluation), but the third point is about how you present the material.

Not everyone learns in the same way. While some people learn by doing, others learn best by seeing and hearing what needs to be done. Some people do well in group sessions, while others do better one-on-one. The best trainers know this and adjust their training methods to optimally suit their audience.

How training is presented can have a significant impact on employees. If you’re training your salespeople you might find that “role playing” is very conducive to their understanding of how to handle cold calls or objections. But if you’re teaching service technicians about proper lubrication on a particular model of equipment, “role playing” will probably miss the mark. So you need to review the materials and the audience in selecting your presentation or training method.

Four Levels of Evaluation

There are four levels in evaluating the effectiveness of employee training:

1. Reaction: Did trainees think the program was worthwhile?

2. Learning: Test before and after the training to determine if there was any change in knowledge level of the participants.

3. Behavior Application: Did training make a positive change in participants’ behavior?

4. Business Impact: What results did training produce in terms of the objectives you set out at the beginning of the program?

Evaluating Reaction

Evaluating reaction is generally done immediately and will be impacted by the pace of the training and the personal interaction of the trainer. When you start organizing your “evaluation sheet,” think of what you want to learn. For example, was the content meaningful? How was the trainer’s interaction with the audience? What was his/her level of knowledge? Were the facilities appropriate, etc.?

Design a form that will quantify reactions and encourage written comments and suggestions. But remember that immediate reaction is still influenced by emotions of the participants from the training session. Sitting on uncomfortable chairs for eight hours can dampen the results of a program no matter how good the presenter.

Evaluating Learning

Learning can involve new knowledge, skills or attitudes. A pre-test is a great way to evaluate what employees knew before the program, and then you can compare the results to a post-test following the program to see if there has been a change.

If the training involves something objective and measurable, then this evaluation will be relatively easy. If you’re attempting to change attitudes and employee interactions, this will be more imprecise. Use a paper and pencil test to measure knowledge and a performance test to measure skills.

Evaluating Behavior

When looking at behavior, you want to know the effectiveness of the knowledge/skills as applied to the job. Be sure to allow time for behavior change and application to take place. Determine how you will evaluate behavior before the training and use that same method after the training. You might even need to repeat the evaluation a couple of times in the future to determine if the training is sticking. Behaviors can include everything from workspace cleanliness to how the phone is answered.

Evaluating Business Results

Finally, the return most dealership principals want from the investment in training is business results. A narrow or limited view can cause businesses to focus first on the cost of training and to disregard the dividends that the investment can produce.

Assessing bottom line benefits of training is a better way to determine its value. This means calculating the ROI. If an organization only sees training as a cost, then talking about measuring ROI becomes even more meaningful.

For example, if a session costs $4,000 for one technician and his/her productivity improves by returning $10,000 more in billable hours, then the return on investment is significant.

The farm equipment industry is becoming increasingly knowledge based. This fact and the rapid pace of change are driving the need for employee training if your dealership is to remain competitive. Look for training to deliver a return on your investment, not as a cost of doing business.